Post-Balakot, Terrorism on Front Burner in Russia's South Asia Discourse
Vinay Shukla

In the wake of daring strike by the Indian Air Force (IAF) jets on the terrorist training facility of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan's Balakot, the Russian discourse has radically shifted from an ‘imminent’ nuclear stand-off between the two South Asian rivals to the problem of cross-border terrorism emanating from the Islamabad-controlled Kashmir.

While the Pulwama suicide attack on Valentine's Day taking the toll of over 40 jawans of CRPF was mostly seen by the Russian electronic and social media as the redox of unresolved Kashmir issue between the two neighbouring nuclear rivals, the ‘non-military, pre-emptive’ strike at Balakot by the IAF, and Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) retaliatory attempt to hit Indian military installations close to the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K changed the narrative to the terrorism as the root cause of the perpetual tension between India and Pakistan. Albeit, parroting official Islamabad's inputs and Western mainstream media's narratives, a part of the state-owned electronic media had claimed that New Delhi has no evidence of Pakistan's involvement in terrorism against India and the situation in Indian Kashmir was created by the crackdown of security forces against the civilians and violation of human rights in the only Muslim-majority state of the country.

In its Itogi Nedeli weekly news analysis on March 10, NTV channel owned by the natural gas major Gazprom noted, “Formally, Islamabad is not responsible for what is happening in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, because there is a totally different state – so-called Azad Kashmir (Independent Kashmir), recognised only Pakistan. But in fact, whatever happens in this part, is controlled from Islamabad. (New) Delhi has a clear understanding that any groups active here are simply linked with the Pakistani intelligence.”

During a Moscow-New Delhi video conference last week between the Indian and Russian experts, Dr. Boris Volkhonsky of the Institute of Asian and African Countries, Moscow State University, and Alexei Kupriyanov, Research Fellow with the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Science Academy, expressed concern over the ‘overpowering’ role of Pakistani intelligence in any peace process with India. Russian experts agreed that normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan would depend highly on the action taken by Islamabad against terror elements operating from its soil.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani propaganda is trying to convince Russian and international public that Moscow is willing to mediate in resolving the current aggravation of situation between the two nuclear armed rivals. However, chronology and substance of official statements clear the fog.

On February 28 in the wake of Balakot strike and duel between the IAF and PAF, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “We are concerned at the escalation of tension in relations between India and Pakistan... We urge the sides to display maximum restraint. We continue to believe that the disputes should be resolved through politico-diplomatic means on the bilateral basis in accordance with Simla accord of 1972 and Lahore Declaration of 1999. We also reaffirm our readiness to provide all -round support to India and Pakistan in the sphere of counterterrorism.” It was after many years Moscow had mentioned Shimla and Lahore, which were quietly buried when it had launched its policy of mending fences with Islamabad.

Within hours after this statement, President Vladimir Putin called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone to once again convey his condolences in connection with the Pulwama terror attack. “In this context the two leaders condemned international terrorism and any form of abetting it, and underlined the need to step up the uncompromising fight against the terrorist threat”, the Kremlin readout said after the phone call. Immediately after Putin-Modi phone conversation, in an interview to RIA Novosti news agency, the Indian ambassador in Moscow D B Venkatesh Varma denied that Russia had offered to mediate. “The issue of mediation is not on the table. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation and during the conversation the question of mediation was not raised at all. Russia supports, as a matter of principle, the actions of India to protect its interests when confronted with cross-border terrorism, which we face,” Ambassador Varma underscored.

Next day, on March 1, Pakistani Foreign Minister S M Qureshi dialled his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. According to the Foreign Ministry readout, “While discussing the situation in South Asia on the backdrop of aggravation of relations between Pakistan and India, the Russian side underscored that there was the need to stick to the rules of universal counter-terrorism conventions by all the countries and cooperate in enforcing them”. Minister Lavrov also pointed to his Pakistani counterpart to use the mechanism of Shanghai Cooperation Corporation’s (SCO) Regional Antiterror Structure and opportunities it provides. He, albeit, expressed Moscow's readiness to assist in de-escalation of the crisis but added that there was “no alternative to politico-diplomatic route to resolve Islamabad's dispute with India”.

The Russian State TV RTR's weekly analytical programme Vesti Nedeli expressed concern at the possibility of defeated Islamic State jihadists pouring into the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to fight against 'infidel' India, and Kashmir becoming a new hotspot of international terrorism as talks were underway with the Taliban amid Washington's plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.

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